Sir Richard Branson 'bankrolled' plan to ease out Mugabe

Virgin owner planned to meet African leaders to plot regime change, say leaked diplomatic cables

Sir Richard Branson last night denied a report in a leaked US embassy cable that he bankrolled a diplomatic effort to sweeten the exit of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

A confidential memo released by Wikileaks says that in July 2007, Branson was due to hold a secret meeting with South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela and other senior African statesmen to discuss persuading President Mugabe, now 87, to step down.

The initiative is said in the cable to have been brokered by Zimbabwean politician Jonathan Moyo, but never came to fruition. Last night Sir Richard Branson's office acknowledged that he had been approached by Mr Moyo to discuss ''ways to broker a peaceful reconciliation in Zimbabwe'' but no further action was taken.

Sir Richard Branson owns a luxury game lodge and a chain of gyms in South Africa and takes a strong interest in the Southern African region's politics. Last year, on the sidelines of the United Nations poverty summit in New York, he launched Enterprise Zimbabwe - an fund aimed at attracting western investors scared off by the political instability in Zimbabwe.

The cable, dated 10 July 2007 and classified by the US ambassador Eric Bost to South Africa, states: "UK businessman Richard Branson is bankrolling an African 'Elders' initiative to convince Zimbabwean President Mugabe to step down. The 'Elders' plan to meet secretly in Johannesburg July 17-18 with Branson to discuss their initiative."

The cable says the planned July 2007 meeting was to include Mandela, former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, as well as the former presidents of Namibia, Zambia, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya and Botswana. Former US president Jimmy Carter was also mentioned as a possible participant.

The memo identifies Mr Moyo, a controversial figure in Zimbabwean politics, as "working with Branson on the plan". Mr Moyo's career has seen him flip-flop in and out of favour with the ruling Zimbabwean African National Union - Patriotic Front. At the moment, he is back in favour, acting regularly in an information role.

The cable says: "Moyo reached out to Branson, who owns Virgin Atlantic airlines as well as a game lodge and chain of gyms in South Africa, in early June to suggest the involvement of the former African leaders. Branson agreed to fund the initiative, including Moyo's travel and technical assistance."

The cable goes into detail about Moyo's plan, adding that he proposed the Elders visit Mugabe and urge him to support a new constitution, giving him the chance to select an executive prime minister in exchange for standing down.

Moyo is even quoted as suggesting ''a script'' for the elders' encounter with the Zimbabwean president, including stressing that ''they respect him'' and want to protect his ''proud legacy''.

Asked last night by The Independent for his views on the leaked cable, Dr Moyo, who is a member of the Zanu-PF Politburo, initially said he could not comment on information ''given to the US ambassador by a third party'' he named as the International Crisis Group.

Later however, in a lengthy phone call, Dr Moyo admitted having met Sir Richard Branson in a check-in queue at O.R Tambo airport in Johannesburg in April 2007. ''We chatted for about an hour and a half. He told me that he was setting up a group of Elders with Peter Gabriel. When he learnt that I was an MP he was interested in my views. Mr Branson is a good man. We exchanged phone numbers and emails.''

Dr Moyo denied initiating a meeting with Mr Branson and claimed that the Virgin millionnaire had phoned him as a follow-up to the airport encounter. ''He asked my advice on who to appoint to his panel of Elders. I told him that the names he was proposing, including Desmond Tutu, were non-starters in Zimbabwe and I gave him more suitable names, including the former presidents of Namibia, Zambia, Ghana and Mozambique.''

However the cable appears to be informed by conjecture. The Elders - a group of prominent figures and former statesmen and women who receive financial support from Branson - were launched on 18 July, 2007, a week after the cable was written. Apart from Nelson Mandela, they do not include the former African presidents named as putative participants in the July 2007 meeting. The Elders did not begin working on the Zimbabwean crisis until the following year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat